Family Vacations; or Losing Faith in Society

July 3, 2012 § Leave a comment

We were vacationing in Maine. My parents, after much squabbling and trips down a tourist-trap strip looking at hotel options, chose this locale because of its scenic view. It had cost a bit more though, which made the atmosphere a little tense in the otherwise orderly quiet that reigns in a freshly made hotel room. The carpets were newly vacuumed and the beds were neatly made and a Bible rested inside the nightstand drawer, but an unease vibrated in the air. Instantly, there was a lot to be frustrated about. There was no cot for my grandmother, and when my father tried to dial the front desk, the phone was dead or broken or for whatever reason silent. The bath had only one small, glossy shampoo bottle for five guests and no conditioner at all. All of these characteristics were apparently unacceptable and deserved a lot of outraged discussion. When a man came to deliever the cot, my grandmother and mother spoke energetically as the door shut behind him. Not about to give him a tip, said my grandmother in that animated tone she uses whenever she gossips about politicians or celebrity news. Definitely not, echoed my mother. Not with what we’re paying, never mind all they neglected in doing before handing us the keys!

During all this, my father and I had found refuge out on the small balcony overlooking a muddy beach strewn with seaweed and Mike’s Hard Lemonade bottles. We stood next to two small plastic chairs stationed beside a rickety table. No more than a couple feet away sat a woman with her son. She sat looking at her own little plot of paradise, dirty-looking foam circling age-old, slimy rocks. She smiled brightly at us, bouncing the tiny bundle on her knees. The tiny bundle wore blonde hair and a dinosaur shirt, and he smiled just as bright.

In no time at all, my grandmother and mother had found the deck. Furtive looks and murmurs of Well, really were replaced by exclamations of Oh, My! and So this is why they think their price modest! As my grandmother’s eyes wandered over the boats out at harbor, she found the tiny blonde head, which had since moved from the bouncing knee closer to the railing. Before she could break into full-on grandma mode (ruffle his hair, call him big boy, ask his age) she noticed a rearing green dragon on the mother’s arm. The dragon spat out fading orange flames and rested on a heart entwined with thorns. My grandmother pursed her lips, and I wondered how much this detail would dominate tonight’s dinner conversation.

It turned out that the tattoo would be entirely forgotten, however, only because at that very moment the little blonde head discovered he could easily slide through the railing dividing his deck from our own. This was a delightful discovery, apparently, because he let out a high-pitched giggle and went toddling around by the plastic chairs identical to those on his own deck, and then over to the rest of us resting by the railing. My grandmother tried to smile good-naturedly, but it was clear she was displeased by the mother’s lax discipline as well as the act of trespassing. Protection of property has always been a cherished American value, after all.

“He’s not very shy, apparently!” said the mother, who remained in her chair. Words clearly meant to break down the railing, to turn this all into silly fun, an innocent act to be forgiven, even enjoyed. They may have sufficed too, these conciliatory words, had the little blonde head not discovered how to open sliding doors, go running into freshly-made hotel rooms, pick up expensive cell phones and completely cover the smell of air freshener and laundry detergent with the very different odor of peanut butter and spittle.

Havoc reigned. My mother and grandmother ran back into the room, grabbed the phone and attempted to swat the little blonde head away, literally flapping their hands at him as if he were an unwelcome group of pigeons. The mother, now standing on her feet, called his name from her deck. Spit all over the phone! my mother lamented. He’ll dirty the sheets! cried my grandmother. My father attempted to pacify the situation with a hearty laugh to cover my grandmother’s hushed curses. Eventually I swooped in, scooped up the little blonde head, now looking thoroughly confused, and deposited him back in his mother’s waiting, tattooed arms. “You’re captured!” She said in a light-hearted sounding voice covering a shameful embarrassment. My grandmother and mother remained inside in protest, not wanting to see the face of such a terrible excuse for a mother. My father retreated as well under the commanding gaze of my mother. I managed a weak smile to assuage the mother’s anxiety, who quickly led the little blonde head inside, his face screwed up, his chin wobbling.

I walked back into the room and lay down on the perfectly starched sheets listening to my mother and grandmother ramble on about all those petty human concerns that are all anyone can talk about nowadays. And I thought how that little blonde head had just been introduced to the ways of this world. Innocence won’t be tolerated when there are brochures to be consulted, money to be spent, and mindlessness to immerse yourself in and never come out.

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